In Events

By: @simondonohue

A century ago, a battle was won which was meant to mark the beginning of the end of a war for gender equality.

Led by bravely determined Manchester campaigners, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, the Suffragettes’ success culminated in the Representation of the People Act (1918) achieving Royal Assent.

The act extended the vote to women in Great Britain and Ireland for the first time. But not all women, only those over the age of 30. It wasn’t until 1928 that every man AND woman over the age of 21 got the vote.

Cut to today and the #MeToo movement demonstrates dramatically that there is still work to do. Despite the fallout from Harvey Weinstein’s actions, some men continue to abuse their power, women are still fighting for equal pay at the BBC, too few women occupy prominent boardroom positions. While the British Prime Minister is a woman, only 32% of the MPs voted into the UK parliament in 2017 were female.

But while change remains glacial, old attitudes are finally melting away and if the lessons of Manchester’s experience are to be heeded, radical thought never goes to waste when inequality is evident and problems need solving. Drastically increasing the rate of change is surely the way to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage.

In a world of challenges, Manchester proves that radical thought pays. And not just in pursuit of universal equality. The radical attitude which fired the Suffragettes is today firing Manchester’s tech start-ups and creatives, e-commerce companies and life scientists, and the quest for new applications for graphene – the 2D material first isolated at the University of Manchester.

Many of Manchester’s historic achievements were a reaction to privations of the past. King Cotton put Manchester at the heart of the Industrial Revolution but was mainly a kind master to rich merchants and mill owners. The workers who left behind their lives in the countryside to tend the great textile machine also found hardship and suffering.

Manchester is where Engels and Marx concerned themselves with improving the plight of the working classes. A desire to reinforce the rights of the masses is engrained in the Manchester consciousness with good reason. It’s in Manchester’s music and culture, its entrepreneurial attitude, and the pioneering research conducted at four universities.

Heading further back in the history of radical Manchester, next year will mark the bicentenary of the so-called Peterloo Massacre in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, sparked by hungry protestors demanding political reform. It prompted a savage response from the authorities that will be replayed in a new film from Salford-born director Mike Leigh, due for release in 2018. Peterloo perhaps set the scene that injustice must always be challenged.

The birth of the co-operative movement followed soon after. Their jobs taken by machines, skilled workers were falling into poverty. In 1844, the Rochdale Pioneers, based within what is now Greater Manchester, took a radical stand against the capitalist ideologies of the Industrial Revolution.

There are clear parallels between the circumstances that led to the formation of the co-operative movement and modern day concerns about the potential for Artificial Intelligence to steal people’s jobs. Unsurprisingly, Manchester’s vision of a smart city is one that will empower the many, rather than the few. In 1868, the Trades Union Congress formed at the Mechanics’ Institute in Manchester.

It’s no accident that the UK’s second city was the birthplace of the NHS and is now hosting a radical £6bn experiment in devolved health and social care spending. Manchester continues to do things differently and will host the World Healthcare Congress Europe – an opportunity to share what it has learned as people across the globe contemplate radical new ways of meeting the world’s health needs.

Manchester’s vibrant Gay Village is today a place in celebration of diverse sexuality. Yet in one corner of the village stands a statue in commemoration of the life of Manchester’s brilliant computer scientist Alan Turing, who killed himself in 1954 after being convicted of "gross indecency" with another man. The enigma codebreaker was posthumously pardoned in December 2013.

Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman has challenged Greater Manchester to invest £1.5bn encouraging people to walk and cycle – another radical response to shared challenges facing city regions the world over as they come to terms with clean and green modes of transport.

In June, it will be 70 years since the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine – or Baby - sparking into life, the world’s first stored program computer. Having pioneered a radical response in the formative years of computer science, Manchester is today a leading contributor to the UK’s creative, digital and media sector – home to MediaCityUK and The Space Project.

These are challenging times for the world; politically, and in terms of the continuing quest for technology and equality. Radical thinking is a gift to the world from Manchester, a city which has proven time and again that adversity equals opportunity as a catalyst for positive change.

To find out more about a year of celebrations of radical Manchester go to www.radicalmanchester.com

Related

The Pankhurst Centre
Heritage / Visitor Centre
The Pankhurst Centre

62 Nelson Street, Manchester, the birthplace of the Suffragette movement, is now the Pankhurst Centre.

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